What I Happen to Be Reading At the Moment

"A thirteen-year-old is a kaleidoscope of different personalities, if not in most ways a mere figment of her own imagination. At that age, what and who you are depends largely on what book you happen to be reading at the moment.”

 

While not 13 anymore, the desire to read almost anything and everything in order to read for fun and for experience is still around. I'm currently working on my PhD in a physical science, but I love to read and books are one of my non-science hobbies.

The Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker I tried hard to like this novel, and for portions of it, I really enjoyed the characterization and style. The Age of Miracles is a first novel, and of the first novels I've read lately it does show the most in this one. The concerns I'll save for a little later, since this work does deserve literary praise. Even with a couple false notes, this novel captures the complicated feelings of early teenage years in the broader context of a world that's changing in ways that are difficult to understand. The bulk of the novel consists of the protagonist, Julia, relating experiences that she had growing up at the almost end of the world. As the days get longer, she starts to realize that friends are not as constant as she expects and that growing feelings for others may not be returned. She's left out and labeled "the good kid" or even worse, "the responsible one" by her peers. At the same time, she is negotiating difficult realizations about her own family and coming into an adult awareness about the interpersonal relationships she witnesses. More than a few times I was amazed by how right on the mark Julia's experiences were to real worries and fears of those years. The style captured the youth of the narrator as well, writing like how I would expect at 11 year old to tell a story. The felling of wanting to belong and do something, feeling completely helpless and realizing it for the first time are all experiences that Julia has, and the quality of work reminds the reader of distinctly. However, I have a couple issues with this work. Some of these points may hint at or spoil plot points towards the end of the novel, so be warned about continuing to read: I could not believe that the same narrator who told an amazing story from the point of view of an 11 to 12 year old could also be 23. There was some change over in experiences that just didn't happen for me, or that there was some disconnect about Julia remembering these events versus the Julia participating in them. This leads me to my second concern. 23 year old Julia says she wants to become a doctor to help others, but at the same time she doesn't know that a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis, not a cocoon. These are flaws that require that Julia doesn't have access to even basic books on biology, which makes her dream of becoming a doctor a bit of a push. Moreover, Karen Thompson Walker discusses in her Powell's Indispensable interview that she showed a draft to an astrophysicist who helped her with some of the details. Even with that, there's a rather large misconception about special relativity that crops into Julia's narration. The care to scientific detail was not as uniform as I would have liked, and jolted me out of an otherwise well conceived and executed story. Overall, this novel, while not perfect, is an exciting exploration of living a normal life and at the same time always experiencing disaster. The themes and characterizations are clever and telling, but the details could have used some more work.

Currently reading

Native Son
Richard Wright
The Great Glass Sea
Josh Weil
The Elder Edda
Anonymous, Andrew Orchard